The Right Way to Haggle

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Markets are some of the best places to dig into the heart and soul of a destination, and who can resist the temptation of a bargain waiting to be found? Deep discounts aside, haggling can be an entertainment in its own right, but tread carefully. Protecting your budget and respecting local customs should go hand in hand.

Location, location, location

The more formal the venue, the more formal the transaction. You wouldn’t haggle in a store at home, so keep the bargaining out of brick-and-mortar establishments overseas. You should also be aware of local franchises. Just because a business lacks a presence in the United States doesn’t mean it’s a singular mom and pop shop, and a chain store will be even less inclined to negotiate. In fact, the employees there may not have the authority to offer you better bargains. You can ask to speak with a manager or owner when making a deal, but your safest bet is to confine your haggling to the marketplace.

Respect the vendor

Part of haggling’s appeal to Western travelers is its seeming exoticism. You could never walk into an American shop and choose your price. Most travelers choose to visit faraway destinations because they’re different from their homes, and many of them view the ability to haggle as a marker of that difference, or worse, as evidence of their vacation’s “authenticity.” Some destinations, however, wind up adopting the practice of haggling simply because rich, powerful Westerners expect it, and as a result, vendors there struggle to make a living.

Haggle with a fisherman, Flickr © stalkERR

Make an effort to learn something of the history and culture of your destination before arriving. If haggling is customary among locals, feel free to partake. After all, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. But if you have any reason to believe marketplace bargaining is a show put on for tourists, do the honorable thing and pay full price.

If you’re not able to figure out whether haggling is appropriate in advance, you can do so onsite. If you show interest in an item, but then say it’s too expensive for you to purchase, the salesperson may make you an offer. If he or she drops the price by as little as 2%, that opens the floor for negotiations and spares you the embarrassment of making a first offer on an item with a fixed price.

Consider the item’s true value

Before entering negotiations, know what you would be willing to pay for your chosen item at home. Don’t pay more or less than what that piece is worth to you. Be ready to walk away if the merchant won’t offer you a fair price, but also be prepared to pay a reasonable sum for your souvenir. Don’t disrespect the honest marketplace vendors out there by purposefully lowballing them. While many less than scrupulous shopkeepers do overcharge tourists, for some vendors, sales isn’t a sport – it’s their livelihood. Particularly in underdeveloped parts of the world, where the American dollar can go a long way, there’s no good reason for you to stretch an affordable bargain to an outrageous discount.

Know what you would be willing to pay for your chosen item, Flickr © Keturah Stickann

Bring backup

Overcome language barriers and the currency exchange in one fell swoop by carrying a pocket calculator during your marketplace wanderings.

Having a friend accompany you can also be a useful haggling tool. A travel companion can pretend to be bored and eager to return to the hotel or act concerned about the budget, and so spur a vendor to make a deal more quickly.

Finally, the best companion on any vacation is knowledge. If you’re looking for a specific type of souvenir, study up and impress salespeople with your smarts. If a merchant respects you as a consumer, you may get a better value.